Vegetarian and meat-eating children have similar growth and nutrition, but not weight, study finds

“Over the last 20 years, we have seen a growing popularity of plant-based diets and a changing food environment with more access to plant-based alternatives, yet we have not seen research on the nutritional outcomes of children following diets vegetarians in Canada. Dr. Jonathon Maguire, the study’s lead author and a pediatrician at Unity Health Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital, said in a news release.

The authors used data from nearly 9,000 children between the ages of 6 months and 8 years who had participated in TARGet Kids! Cohort between 2008 and 2019. TARGet Kids! is a primary care practice-based research network and cohort study in Toronto. Details about the diets these children ate were based on their parents, who answered whether their children were vegetarians (which included vegans) or non-vegetarians.

During each health monitoring visit over the years, TARGet Kids! They measured the participants’ body mass index, weight, height, cholesterol levels, triglycerides, vitamin D levels, and serum ferritin levels. Ferritin is a cellular protein that stores iron and allows the body to use it when it’s needed, so a ferritin test indirectly measures iron levels in the blood, according to the Mount Sinai Health System.

At the start of the study, 248 children (including 25 vegans) were vegetarians, and a further 338 children had become vegetarians some time later during the study. The children were followed for almost three years on average. There were no significant differences between vegetarian and nonvegetarian children with respect to standard BMI, height, serum ferritin levels, and vitamin D levels.

However, vegetarian children were nearly twice as likely to be underweight as non-vegetarian children.

Being underweight can be a sign of malnutrition and may indicate that one’s diet is not sufficient to support proper growth, according to the study’s news release. Specific details about dietary intake or quality and physical activity were not available to the authors, which could influence growth and nutrition.

Studies with longer follow-up periods and information on motivations for eating vegetarian, such as socioeconomic status, would also be helpful in understanding the links between children’s development and vegetarianism, the authors said.

The findings highlight “the need for careful dietary planning for underweight children when considering vegetarian diets,” Maguire said.

“Children who were underweight in both the vegetarian and nonvegetarian (groups) were similar and were younger and of Asian descent,” said Amy Kimberlain, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Kimberlain was not involved in the study.

“Certainly, ethnicity could have influenced weight determination,” said Dr. Maya Adam, a clinical assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at Stanford School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study.

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The Asian children “were probably of East Indian descent, because this subset of the ‘Asian’ demographic box (which I also end up choosing as a person of Indian descent) is much more likely to practice vegetarianism,” Adam said by email. “In India, children’s growth charts differ from US growth charts. An average 5-year-old girl in India is expected to weigh 17 kilograms and be around 108 centimeters tall. The same height weighs 18 kg”.

Still, “it’s important that children’s growth be monitored, regardless of their diet,” Kimberlain said. “A vegetarian diet can be a healthy choice for all children. The key is to make sure it is well planned. With the help of a registered dietitian nutritionist, children’s growth can be monitored, as well as their nutrient needs to ensure to be consumed properly.

If you and your kids are experimenting with a vegetarian or vegan diet, it’s important to have alternative options “in case one day you like something and the next day you don’t,” Kimberlain said.

country guidelines

When feeding infants and children a vegetarian diet, parents should ensure regular consumption of eggs, dairy products, soy products, and nuts or seeds, in addition to vegetables, fruits, beans and lentils, grains, and oils, recommends the Dietary Guidelines. US Current for Americans. .
Be very careful to include foods rich in iron and vitamin B12, as plant-based sources of those nutrients are less bioavailable compared to animal-based foods. Different beans, green leafy vegetables and sweet potatoes are rich in iron. And nutritional yeast, dairy products, and cereals are some sources of vitamin B12. The guidelines have a graphic chart of the appropriate servings from each food group per day.
Canadian guidelines say that a vegetarian diet may be suitable for children when milk and eggs are included.

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